It’s September 1967 and sitting in the UK charts alongside the Small Faces' ‘Itchycoo Park’, the Rolling Stones' ‘We Love You’, and Traffic’s ‘Hole In My Shoe’ was an extraordinary single called ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ sung by its author Bobbie Gentry.
An unconventional, beguiling song with sparse production, and no discernible chorus, Gentry’s style of story-telling was very different to the self-confessional song writing of other emerging female singers. It introduced the world to an artist who not only knocked Sgt Pepper off the top of the US Album charts, but who was also one of the first female musicians who wrote, produced and even published her own music.
Bobbie broke new ground by producing her elaborate stage shows via her own production company, and was the first female singer songwriter to be afforded her own BBC TV series; she became one of the most iconic and influential artists of the 1960s and 70s, only to disappear from the public eye completely, never to return.
Bobbie Gentry’s career blazed brightly for a few short years, but only now is the full extent of her artistry coming into focus. When we think of empowered female stars we think of Beyoncé, Madonna, or even Dolly Parton, but before all of them there came the girl from Chickasaw County. When she emerged in the late 60s women were just starting to make their mark in the music industry, but female identity was polarised between the light entertainment star and the confessional singer-songwriter.
Bobbie developed her own unique persona, which was a hybrid of both; part creative songwriter, and part musical theatre performer. A storyteller at heart, Bobbie created characters and situations that were often inspired by her Southern childhood, and the media and public alike were fascinated by the contrast between her glamorous appearance and the rural simplicity of her origins. Romanticised over time, these stories have coalesced into a classic version of the American dream; a rags-to-riches story that took Bobbie from the Delta backwoods to the world’s most glittering stages.
Bobbie was a trailblazer who was years ahead of her time; a successful writer, singer, musician, performer, producer, publisher, and businesswoman.